Rebel football wins high-scoring home opener in shootout fashion

Posted on Sep 9 2018 - 11:45am by John Macon Gillespie

Ole Miss found a way to keep it interesting in its only game against an FCS opponent this season.

The Rebels trailed the Southern Illinois Salukis at halftime, 38-35, before racking up a 41-3 scoring run in the second half to secure a 76-41 win. The Salukis scored on all six of their first-half drives. In the second half, however, the Rebel defense forced three turnovers — two of which resulted in scores.

“It’s good to be 2-0,” head coach Matt Luke said. “I think that’s the most important stat. There’s a lot of stats I’m not happy with, but that’s the one I am happy with.”

Photo by Christian Johnson

The Rebel defense allowed the Salukis 629 yards of total offense, 388 of which came through the air, despite Southern Illinois being pegged as a “run-first” offense. Luke said his defensive players were able to make personal adjustments — as opposed to schematic adjustments — after the rough first half.

“I think a lot of it was mindset, eyes and going out there and not waiting on someone to make a play,” Luke said.

Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff echoed his head coach’s diagnosis of the defense: Its issue was caused by a lack of execution and focus rather than by a flaw in the game plan.

“Give [Southern Illinois] credit,” McGriff said. “They came out, and they played with energy. And they did a tremendous job in the first half. We went out, and we didn’t have our focus. We played flat. We had bad eye discipline, and we gave up a ton of plays.”

Photo by Christian Johnson

Although Luke and McGriff were displeased with the defense’s performance in the first half, McGriff was pleased with how the team turned it around in the latter half of the game.

“The players went back out in the second half and did a tremendous job of playing,” McGriff said. “At some point, the players got to go out and make plays. They took ownership (of) it. And in the second half, they went out and did it.”

Despite the shaky showing from the Landshark Defense, the Ole Miss offense had another marquee day. The Rebels scored on five of their six first-half drives and six of their seven in the second half. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu garnered career highs in both passing yards (448) and passing touchdowns (5). Offensive coordinator Phil Longo was pleased with how his unit answered the call when the Rebel defense was struggling.